Constant State of Grace – An Interview with Keren Cytter
Keren Cytter never stops. Video Art, drawing, photography, writing and directing
her own plays – the Israel-born, New York-based artist is churning out project after
project, turning heads in the process, her range ever-expanding. I first worked with
Keren in 2009 when her star was very much on the rise, her video work being
profiled in every art magazine you could find. Her fragmented narratives struck a
chord with audiences who fell in love with her cool wit and 21st-century angst.
She has since made good on that early promise. Considered to be one of the
most important contemporary artists of her generation, Keren Cytter sticks to the
very core of what brought her such success: Talent, humor and hard work.
In Cologne for a performance of SHOW REAL DRAMA, the successful two-hander
we’ve been touring with for the last three years, we sat down over a Starbucks filter
coffee to chat about her work.
Everytime I see you you’ve got tons of things coming up. What are you working on
I’m developing a sound piece for the FRIEZE Art Fair in New York working with
hypnosis. I want to hypnotize people and have them reach a constant state of
grace. I’m trying to look for something that’s not about dying or consuming but
something that can be objective and help them somehow. Give them something
which is not about success. I will use headphones and the whole thing will start in
their cars already. There will be VIP cars, stuff like that. It’s a complicated set-up.
Sounds exciting. What else? Do you have a new movie coming up?
Yes, I’ll be doing a group show in Barcelona in October and I’m producing
something for that. I’m working with a foundation helping to recognize the fight
against AIDS, so the new movie needs to somehow change the stigma of people
who have HIV. I’m also planning a new feature but I don’t want it to look like the
movies people are used to seeing. I want to find ways to break it up a bit.
You had been living in Berlin for six years until you moved to New York City in 2012.
Has that changed your work at all? Your two latest movies, SIREN and ROSE
GARDEN, were shot in New York and Houston. Do you feel like there’s a new
I needed to get used to a lot of new things. From the style of acting and the sound
of American English to the rhythm of talking and not using subtitles anymore. So a
lot of things inside the structure have changed. Things look different when they’re
American because their culture is so much more exposed, the distribution is much
bigger. It’s something everyone is familiar with.
Do you feel closer to that?
No, not at all. But it’s interesting that I can do such a thing. To change like that. It’s
like a different planet. Moving from Israel to Europe was a complete change, and
so was moving from Europe to America. The way things are seen is different. The
thinking is different.
Do you want to tell me a bit about the poetry books you’ve been publishing lately?
When Maaike Gouwenberg and I started the foundation APE (art projects era) in
2010 we focused mainly on performance and theatre. Then we thought about
mixing art with poetry. For each publication we choose three poets and give them
40 pages to work with, then we select an artist to add illustrations. But it’s based on
literature, they’re not art books. Sternberg Press is distributing them and I’m
financing it which is quite hard. It’s easy to produce if you ignore the money. It can
be harsh but I really like the results.
Let’s talk about MOP. That’s probably one of my favorite things you’ve done.
Yeah it’s nice, no? It started one and a half years ago when I closed my businesses
in Europe and noticed I had some money left. I bought a polaroid camera in a
store and started taking pictures wherever I went. When we were rehearsing SHOW
REAL DRAMA in London I put them in order on the floor and as a joke called it
MOP, short for Museum of Photography. I ended up with 800 polaroids which were
then shown at Pilar Corrias in London, and now they published it. I’m very happy
Yeah, the book is beautiful. Okay, last question.
Right, we have to rehearse…
I know, I know. So have you seen anything good lately? Films, shows? Anything
that inspired you?
Not really. But you know, you can be inspired by stuff you didn’t like. ENEMY by
Denis Villeneuve, for example. I’m not sure I liked it but it was different. I’m tired a
lot so I got used to watching Hollywood movies and forgot how to judge a movie,
the level of the acting, for example, or how a character is developed. It was a
very weird movie, a festival movie, which is not necessarily a good thing. But it was
nice to see creative stuff. It’s about a guy who meets his double, someone who
looks exactly like him. And for some reason they both get very excited about that
and out of evilness decide to swap places and their wife and girlfriend. One guy
dies in an accident and in the end the woman turns into a giant spider.
A giant spider?
Yeah, it’s very Kafka. That’s the last shot – poof! And then titles. So it was quite
refreshing. Then I googled to find out about this inside story I obviously missed but
apparently everyone is trying to figure it out and there aren’t any clues. But it was
You’re also into TRUE DETECTIVE, right?
I like it but I wouldn’t say it inspires me. I like Matthew McConaughey but I already
liked him before so it was nice to see how he developed. That was exciting to
watch. Maybe I was inspired by the pace a bit. I don’t know. I prefer not to see
good things. People write these amazing reviews about something and I get such
high expectations that someone actually reached that level of greatness, and
when I see it it turns out to be just another product. So I decided not to watch this
stuff anymore but to just read about it because then I’m inspired. Because in my
imagination I’m trying to put together how they did it. That’s even more inspiring
than to look at what actually comes out of it.